Zimele helps us see ability within disability

From, left are beneficiaries Noxolo Langa, Hilton Abrahams, Yushree Isaacs, and Lerato Lesoitsa.

After having her leg amputated above the knee in 2016 due to the flesh-eating disease necrotising fasciitis, Noxolo Langa battled to get her weight under 100kg to qualify for a state prosthesis.

The single mother of three from Gugulethu struggled to find employment and had to rely on her disability grant to take care of herself, her children and her father. The stress of all of this, says Ms Langa, made it hard for her to stay positive.

A few months later, she sought help from Zimele, a non-profit company in Pinelands that provides prosthetic rehabilitation to adult amputees from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dr Sarah Whitehead and Jayson Chin founded Zimele in 2020. At the time, they were part of a volunteer amputee rehabilitation clinic that gave free rehabilitation advice to amputees.

“The intention was to address the patient’s needs as holistically as possible. We, however, got frustrated with the fact that as a free clinic all we could do was offer advice. The need for the provision of the prosthetic rehabilitation services that they were discussing in the clinic continued to grow in Cape Town and the rest of South Africa and remained unaffordable to many South Africans. Together with Rodney Lakay, we decided to register Zimele, which would allow us to raise funds to address this need,” says Dr Whitehead.

Zimele provides prosthetic rehabilitation with the help of an occupational therapist, social worker, physiotherapist, a prosthetist and a doctor.

The aim, says Dr Whitehead, is to not only get those they help “back on their feet” but also find them employment or ways to make an income as many of them are sole breadwinners for their families and barely get by on a disability grant.

“Another big part of Zimele is disability advocacy. We work with our beneficiaries to enable them with the ability to self advocate and advocate for others with disability,” says Dr Whitehead, adding that they try to get the public to “celebrate the differences and the ability within disability” instead of viewing it with pity and shame.

Ms Langa says Zimele helped her get much-needed counselling and support. She got her weight down for a prosthesis and finished a rehabilitation programme in 2022. She is now completing business management training.

“Being part of Zimele changed my life. I appreciate all the help, and I am proud of myself too. I am so excited about what is going to happen next.”

The non-profit, which relies solely on donor funding, is holding a fund-raising lucky draw for this month. Tickets are R200. Each ticket puts the buyer in line to win one of two hand-woven picnic baskets filled with pampering vouchers and other goodies. The R200 ticket covers a Zimele beneficiary’s transport to one rehabilitation session. Tickets are available through Quicket.

According to Dr Whitehead, it costs Zimele, on average, R100 000 for each beneficiary with 70% of this cost going towards the prosthetic components and manufacturing; 20% towards the psychosocial rehabilitation programme, beneficiary transport and lunches; and 10% towards operational costs and staff salaries.

Zimele founders Dr Sarah Whitehead and Jayson Chin with director Rodney Lakay in front.